Water temperature: 26C/80F and sloooooowly rising
What a beautiful trip our last charter of 2023 has been! The wind chilled a little but the water temperature held and the summer critters came out to play. Various nudibranchs we don’t normally see during the colder months, plus a sighting of three ghost pipefish together! As if that wasn’t enough, our guests were graced with a comeback from the mantas, and we saw four of them at Wakaya! But as usual the star of the trip was Namena Marine Reserve with its beautiful reefs and an abundance we only ever see there.
Photo by Darrell: Not bad for someone who doesn't like wide angle!
Photo by Darrell: Yellownose shrimpgobies
Photo by Max: One last show in 2023 by Riley
We began our journey at Vatu-i-ra Marine Reserve, and although the surface was very windy, our morning dives were very mellow. Maytag and Mellow Yellow brightened our morning with their abundance of reef fish big and small. Snappers, trevallies, tunas, mackerels. We also saw some unusual nudis, including a chromodoris coi, which made Bel squeal underwater. We hit Coral Corner and Howard’s Diner for the afternoon, but then had to cancel dive 3 and the night dive due to wind, swells and currents all working together to create trouble.
Photo by Darrell: Fiji colors
Photo by Darrell: Fish fireworks
We moved to Namena for two glorious days that only the marine park can offer. The south dives were critter-y, with sightings of juvenile ribbon eels, decorated dartfish, an unusual orangutan crab, pipefish, several bubble snails mating (there may have been a snail trail joke), sponge crabs and even some humphead wrasses. On our second day, some coral were spawning and we watched as the midnight snappers fed directly on top of the spawning colonies. Yum. On the surface, we had several boobies lading on our bow and ended up having to get several of them off the boat, but not before they left us some squid presents.
At North save-a-tack the sharks definitely stole the show, but it wasn’t for lack of other fish. Triggers, scads, barracudas, snappers, milkfish, pompanos, tunas, mackerels, palette surgeonfish, more humphead wrasses. Helen was told it was a good thing she missed the Schoolhouse dive, as there were too many fish for her to count. Kansas was absolutely beautiful, and the pygmy seahorses are back there! At the end of the last dive at Grand Central Station, Bel and Judy got rushed out of the water by sharks who were chasing a bait ball. They were only juveniles, but seeing several sharks swim away from food towards you is never a good sight! On the night dive we saw a pleurobranch and lots of creepy crawlers. The kava party, as always, was a huge success with weird animals and a very giggly German goat.
Photo by Max: Slender pinjalo snappers
Photo by Max: Sharky
Photo by Darrell: Pygmy seahorse
Photo by Darrell: Snail love
Photo by Bel: Boobies on board
We moved to Wakaya and had fabulous dives on the wall. Grey and white tip reef sharks, a couple of big marble stingrays (one getting cleaned), orange barred garden eels, yellownose shrimpgobies, juvenile rockmover wrasses, decorated dartfish, three juvenile robust ghost pipefish together. It was unbelievable! Oh, sure, we also saw mantas!! After 2 trips with zero-to-fleeting encounters, Lucky lefty spent dive 1 with 4 individuals (Riley as always a show-off) and Mighty Righty saw the Distinguished manta briefly. He tried to use the cleaning station but a mean titan trigger had other plans. We crossed quickly to Makogai for a dive at Rick’s and Becky’s filled with more critters and the incredible reef tops. We finished with a village visit where Rick represented us as chief and the children once again melted our hearts. It will be hard not seeing them for two full months!
Photo by Max: The distinguished manta and Riley
Photo by Darrell: Orange-barred garden eel
Photo by Darrell: Juvenile rockmover wrasse
Photo by Darrell: One of the three ghost pipefish
Photo by Mike: Makogai mekes
Photo by Mike: Beautiful smiles
We spent the following day at Vuya with the amazing soft corals at Cat’s, the incredible hard corals at Humann Nature, the magical bommies at UndeNAI’Able reef and the gorgeous scenery at Pinnacle. We saw a vast variety of nudibranchs, fluorescent anemones, mating nudis, lobster and pinjalos. Bel had a stare contest with a wrasse and Jill caught it on video. Judy was so overwhelmed she said it may have been more beautiful than Bel’s Bommie!
After torrential rain during the night, the winds calmed down and allowed us to spend our last day at E6 and Mount Mutiny. The Cathedral as always was a big hit with all divers, photographers or not. Mount Mutiny managed to amaze even more with the chyronephthyas and hard corals, absolutely stunning. We see it trip after trip and take it for granted, but Helen wanted to rename the sites Lazarus, since they were all but gone after cyclone Winston less than 8 years ago. What an amazing last trip of the year it has been, and we know just how much we’ll miss Fiji and our Fijian crew. As we spend the holidays with our family, we will be thinking of our NAI’A family.
Photo by Darrell: Fan and Nancy
Photo by Darrell: Rainbow wall
Photo by Max: Rainbow wall
“This trip was better than I expected. And I expected it to be pretty frickin’ great. Thanks to all the crew who made our first liveaboard so memorable.”